Comment: Pay-as-you-throw can drive the circular economy

Under the terms of such a scheme, people would pay for the collection of waste containers like wheelie bins, each of which would be equipped with RFID or a similar system.

Governments should consider introducing a combination of incentives and penalties, such as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT), if they are serious about lowering the volume of waste sent to landfill, argues Chris Williams of ISB Global, a UK-based software and solutions provider for the global waste management and recycling sector. His views are presented here in an article authored by the firm.

Already introduced in parts of the Netherlands, the UK, Japan, and other countries, PAYT is a system whereby people are charged for the amount of waste they throw away. Ottawa is the latest city to announce plans for a PAYT scheme, with residents of the Canadian capital limited to 55 free rubbish bags per year from next spring.

ISB Global supports a global push for PAYT. In practical terms, Williams sees the most likely way to manage a PAYT system as follows:

  • People pay for their own waste containers, wheelie bins, and rubbish bags, which are all electronically tagged
  • The tag links the container, and also the waste designated for that container, to the relevant person or company
  • Every collection vehicle has Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) or Near Field Communication (NFC) readers, with cameras and onboard weighing
  • Every collection creates a charge (or a rebate) based on the material type and/ or weight
  • Cameras and AI identify those trying to put material in the wrong bin
  • All tags are pre-paid otherwise the truck will put the container back down

“All our activities are linked,” said Williams. “Extracting raw materials has an impact on climate, as do the manufacturing processes that we use to make products. When we throw things away, they end up in landfill or incinerators, which then contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s crucial that we break this cycle. At every stage, we must look for more sustainable ways to do things.”

Chris Williams is founder and CEO of ISB Global.

“A circular economy involves everyone from raw material firms to individual consumers. At the moment, renewable, cleaner or circular products and services typically have a price premium associated with them. In some cases, individuals and businesses are prepared to pay this premium. However, it’s difficult to convince most companies to pay more for the raw materials they need.”

“We need more incentives to help people reduce their waste,” Williams continued. “For example, introducing PAYT will bring to people’s attention the amount of waste they generate, and hopefully lead to better consumer habits and a measurable reduction in waste,” he explained. “These schemes are already in place in some areas. Introducing initiatives such as PAYT, alongside deposit refund schemes for recycling, encourages people to recycle more and throw away less.”Williams also emphasises the role that technology will play in cutting the amount of waste produced by corporations and minimising their costs if PAYT schemes become commonplace.

“To run a successful waste and recycling business in a circular economy climate, you need the right data and the right management systems in place,” said Williams. “The best way to do this is to invest in an integrated system designed and built by people who properly understand the industry. Implementing this type of comprehensive, joined-up approach standardises, simplifies and automates every waste and recycling process. This in turn delivers better visibility, more effective reporting and more efficient operational and financial efficiency across the organisation.”